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Wood Cow-wheat

Melampyrum nemorosum

  • Family: Broomrape Family – Orobanchaceae
    (formerly Figwort Family – Scrophulariaceae)
  • Growing form: Annual herb. Hemiparasite.
  • Height: 20–40 cm (8–16 in.). Stem abundantly branched, soft-haired.
  • Flower: Corolla zygomorphic, bright yellow, fused, tubular, bilabiate, 15–20 mm (0.6–0.8 in.) long. Corolla tube usually curved. Upper lip hooded, flat-sided; lower lip 3-lobed. Calyx fused, campanulate (bell-shaped), woolly, 4-lobed, lobes approx. 2.5 mm (0.1 in.) long, narrowly triangular, branching, straight. Stamens 4. Gynoecium composed of 2 fused carpels. Lower flower-pairs separate in axils of subtending bracts, upper a one-sided terminal spike.
  • Leaves: Opposite, short-stalked. Blade lanceolate–ovate, upper leaves toothed–lobed at base. Uppermost subtending bracts usually purple, sometimes yellowish white.
  • Fruit: Elliptic capsule.
  • Habitat: Young forests, broad-leaved forests, hedgerows, sloping meadows. Also an ornamental.
  • Flowering time: June–July.

Wood cow-wheat is easy to recognize: its yellow flowers and purple upper leaves bring to mind the colours of the Swedish flag, and in fact it is known in some Swedish-speaking Finnish coastal areas as svenska flaggan, ’Swedish flag’. The powerful contrast between the colours of its upper leaves and flowers is behind its other Swedish-language name, natt och dag, ‘night and day’.

Many of beautiful wood cow-wheat’s current stands began as garden transplants. In the wild it favours broad-leaf forests and sloping meadows. It grows on one hand in the east of the country around Savonlinna–Parikkala and on the other hand in the south-west on the Åland Islands and around the western side of the Gulf of Finland. In the latter habitat it can be found growing alongside crested cow-wheat (M. cristatum), which is rare, and field cow-wheat (M. arvense), which is rarer still. Both species have been classified as vulnerable and the latter is protected.

Other species from the same genus
Other species from the same family

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